Our May 6th 2018 service featured a consideration of a classic book on the subject of religion and its personal manifestations and meaning. This was William James', the American physician, psychologist and philosopher's 1902 Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature. This is a collection of lectures that James gave in Scotland during 1901 and 1902. Although over a hundred years old, it is still instructive and entertaining to read today with many interesting ideas worth thinking about.
We began with a consideration of another idea that James is remembered for, the philosophical concept of pragmatism. Pragmatism is not the idea that "whatever works is true." It is, rather, the idea that truth and belief ought o have practical consequences. Beliefs that have no important consequences lack what James referred to as "cash value." We may say, for example, that the astonishing metaphysical claims of Christianity have little to no "cash value" because the behavior of its adherents do not reflect the idea that their "earthly existence" is a trivial matter on the timescale of infinite immortality.
We then considered how James in his Varieties work addressed the question of what religion really “is.” James made it clear that he meant what is spoken of today as “being spiritual but not religious.” James called it “personal religion,” or “ … the feelings, acts, and experiences of individual men in their solitude, so far as they apprehend themselves to stand in relation to whatever they may consider the divine.” He then went on to define “the divine” very broadly, concluding with the observation and question: “Religion, whatever it is, is a man’s total reaction upon life, so why not say that any total reaction upon life is a religion?” This obviously anticipated the ideas of theologians such as Paul Tillich as well as the basis of Freethought as promoted by the NTCOF. Of course, in James' day there were anti-blasphemy laws in the UK where he delivered the original lectures, so James may have had to choose carefully what he said and the way he said it. The May 6th bulletin gives a very brief synopsis of James' book.
We also enjoyed a Moment of Science during our May service on NASA's new planet-hunting satellite TESS – the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite. NASA has a nice video on it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q4KjvPIbgMI
Please add your comments below. And join us for the June service on the 3rd!
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